Emerging Importance of Drought Vulnerability: The United Nations’ Role 

On June 17, the city of Madrid, Spain, hosted the Desertification and Drought Day, stressing the exacerbating effects of climate change on soil degradation. The Spanish government acknowledged the country’s growing vulnerabilities to water shortages, soil degradation, and a cornucopia of climate-related grievances by stating that: 

“Drought is not just the absence of rain; it is often fuelled by land degradation and climate change. Together, we can overcome its devastating effects on people and nature around the world and start preparing now to drought-proof our future.” 

Teresa Ribera Rodríguez Vice-President of the Government of Spain and Minister for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) annually highlights the ramifications of desertification in vulnerable regions with the Desertification and Drought Day. The reason for the United Nations’ evolving role is that, as Najib Saab, the Secretary General of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), explains: 

“Most countries still refuse to consider desertification a global problem, even though the facts prove otherwise.”

By promoting public awareness with empirical research, providing problem-solving tools and initiatives fostering multi-leveled cooperation, and creating a strong framework for policy implementation mainly on the African continent, the UNCCD’s Desertification and Drought Day seeks to convince the national reclassification of desertification within at-risk countries. It legitimizes incentives for policy adoption by reinforcing previous international commitments, such as the Rio, Kyoto, Paris, and Glasgow Agreements.  

With droughts affecting 55 million individuals annually, the UNCCD’s agenda for policy implementation intensified, on the grounds of ecosystem and communal resilience, across 23 countries. Countries in an emergency drought state include: Afghanistan, Angola, Brazil, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Somalia, Pakistan, United States, and more. Non-emergency drought states include demographically significant regions such as India, China, and Australia. 

Climate change alters the spatiotemporal patterns in temperature, rainfall, and wind, (rendering the proliferation of ramifications multifaceted.) The regions at greater risk are those with arid and semiarid lands, whose surface covers over 40% of the planet’s land. This is why the UN wants to focus on drought-prone regions. 

On June 24, the Mongolian government, following the Desertification and Drought Day conference, inaugurated a Memorandum of Understanding on the importance of climate change, the implications of desertification, and the urge for government intervention for sectorial protection of vital economic assets. 

While in China, the Chinese Communist Party (CPP) initiated, as titled by the party, a “historic change” for desertification policies under legislative amendments and afforestation initiatives in hard-hit regions of the Kubuqi Desert, Inner Mongolia.  Xi Jinping stated, on June 18, that: 

“We [the Chinese government] do everything we can to conserve the ecological system, intensify pollution prevention and control, and improve the living and working environment for our people”. 

Despite the moves towards ecological adaptation, the United Nations faces the growing issue of twin disasters, seen with the heat waves from Europe extending to India and Pakistan. Similarly to a disease, twin disasters spread; these are environmental and climatological transboundary phenomena. The ramifications extend either by creating the same effect, for instance a heat wave, or a secondary effect, a drought. 

Desertification in India 

Historically, India experienced 16 hydrological (water shortage-induced) and 18 meteorological (weather-induced) droughts, totaling 34 droughts from 1870 to 2018. In fact, scholars have pointed to five severe droughts, from 1887 to 2018, with recurring  milder droughts every three years. 

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research of India estimated, by 2050, with the growing intensification of anthropogenic and climatological implications they will lose 10 percent of Indian land due to desertification alone. 

The severity of climate change created by anthropogenic factors intensified the Indian government’s acknowledgement on the pace of desertification. In 2014, a record of 47 degrees ravaged India and enticed the Minister of Environment, Prakash Javadekar, to publicly acknowledge the speedy desertification pace of a quarter of India. 

A 2016 report by Space Application Center (SAC) of Ahmedabad estimated the loss of 30 percent of land resulting from land degradation–an indicator of desertification. 

An increase in temperatures results in a simultaneous increase in natural disasters with a tripling effect on the city of Mumbai. 

Forced Migration: A Beginning for Security Concerns 

During the 15th Annual International Conference of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Jigmet Takpa, the Joint Secretary of Environment, made a statement on the urgency and vitality of a sustainable and resilient agricultural system. He acknowledged the increased probability of climate-forced migration. 

The fundamental concern for security are increasing side effects of climatic changes as these are multi-faceted and multi-leveled. It creates a domino effect within the system, enticing groups to foster security (border control, human trafficking, and food security) and economic concerns with risk-management institutions and damages. 

In the State of India’s Environment Report 2022, an estimate of 143 million climate-refugees is expected within the next 30 years with an additional 44 million drought-driven refugees across India. The problem lies in the dynamic between the flooded coastal regions and the desertification of the central regions. 

The forced-migration dilemma for India implicates endogenous and exogenous movements with neighboring migrants from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Rohingya, and Pakistan. Again, this illustrates the indiscriminate and transboundary nature of climatological impacts coped with socio-economic and socio-political grievances. 

The State of India’s Environment Report 2022 states that: 

“Human migration and mobility are age-old phenomena, but their triggers are fast changing due to deteriorating environment and ecosystems. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the world saw large-scale displacements triggered by climate and weather events in 2020 and 2021.” 

Climate change contributes to a decrease of 2 to 5 % in 2021 of India’s annual GDP. 

India’s Green Party Commentary 

The India Greens Party (iGP) reaffirmed the points emphasized during the Desertification and Drought Day, and supported the UNCCD’s Drought in Number report by promoting the need for resilience-based policy initiatives. 

The India’s Green Party founder, Suresh Nautiyal states that: 

“At the same time forced migration and displacement driven by desertification and land degradation have to be addressed by creating social and economic opportunities that increase rural resilience and livelihood stability, and by mobilizing resources” 

Suresh Nautiyal also emphasized the importance of biodiversity and the plausibility of land restoration with “healthy” land initiatives. 

Layla-Maria Slim

Layla-Maria is the Chief Editor at Canadian Centre for Strategic Studies (CCSS) and the Journal of Political Affairs (JPA), as well as the Vice-President at the Strategic and Diplomatic Society (SDS) at Concordia University. She is an Honour student in Political Science with a minor in History, and a minor in Diversity and Contemporary World from the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability (LCDS) at Concordia University.

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